The Flowering of a Quarter CenturySep 01, 2021 08:30AM ● By Maggie Barnes
“Gardening is something most people pick up in their retirement.” So they say…Most of the members of the Heritage Garden Club of Troy, Pennsylvania, are, indeed, retired. But don’t get the idea that this is a small band of quiet ladies who gather once a month to nibble cucumber sandwiches and chat about roses. The Heritage Garden Club members are passionate, green-thumbed ambassadors for their community, with several projects underway at any given time in the spring, summer, and fall. They understand the power of nature-made beauty and use it strategically to increase the enjoyment of life for others.
If you’ve ever passed the “Welcome to Troy” sign, you’ve seen the results of their talents in the blooms that adorn it. “The one by Tops on Route 14 looks nicest this year,” says member Barb Andrus. Begun in 1995, the Troy Heritage Garden Club is part of the Garden Club Federation of Pennsylvania and the National Garden Clubs, Inc. When Shirley Merloe invited a few ladies to her home to talk about beginning a garden club, she probably never envisioned a day they would be counted among 175,000 other members throughout the nation, all the way up to Alaska and down to Hawaii. (A founding member, Carol Ulmer, is still active today.) But in 2009, the Troy group hitched their wagon to the consortium and reaped the benefits of educational opportunities and new projects to consider. The club applies for aptly named “seed grants.” One year they got funding for professional plant markers, so folks can not only enjoy the flowers and plants, but identify them as well.
The Heritage Village and Farm Museum in Troy provides the perfect setting for some of those projects. “We created gardens at the Heritage Museum,” member Judy Warn says. “The easiest is the Friendship Garden, where our members bring a favorite flower from home, and we plant them together. But some of our efforts require a lot of research.”
She’s not just tiptoeing through the tulips about the research. The Museum also features a Dye Garden, where everything planted has historically been used to tint clothing. But the mountain of research that was steepest to climb was for the Herb Garden. There are over thirty types of herbs represented, and the ladies can tell you much about the ancient uses for each of them. “Herbs fall into categories like medicinal, culinary, or fragrant,” Barb says. The garden speaks to the original green movement, when a community grew what they needed and found uses for everything.
It is a good thing that the ladies of the Heritage Garden Club are such experts on the herbs, because their most dynamic project is what they call Farmer Boy Days. It is an interactive session with more than 900 fourth graders from area schools. “You wouldn’t think you could interest today’s fourth graders in an herb garden,” Judy laughs, “but they really get into it. We get them guessing about how herbs were used in the home.” The garden club members explain that there was no pharmacy in 1866 for a cough or arthritis, and settlers had to use what nature provided for cures. Education for future generations is a big part of the club’s mission. They offer scholarships to local high school graduates to encourage careers in horticulture and forestry.
But the most visible indicators of the group’s vitality remain the public display of flowers. In addition to their colorful welcomes at the entrances to Troy, they have an elaborate display at the Troy Fairgrounds that includes a water feature. And they handle the plantings around the “Little” Children’s Church on the Heritage Village and Farm Museum grounds. Perhaps the most eye-catching effort are the hanging baskets that brighten downtown Troy. The garden club attends to these planters at the change of the seasons—May, September, and November. These members of a floral army disrupt a morning’s stillness with ladders, tools, and watering cans. “And everyone has baskets they are responsible for,” Judy laughs. “If you don’t keep up the watering, everyone knows it!” Even if the baskets still look good, the change is made to keep pace with the fluctuating temperatures and upcoming holidays. Club members credit the business owners with assisting them on caring for the plants, which are a point of civic pride.
How do they keep it all straight? The ladies use a yearbook to track where they planted what and when. (Not a bad idea for home gardeners who spend spring days questioning whether it was pansies or petunias that went along the walkway.) The yearbook itself is a work of art, and one year the Heritage Club won the prize for best yearbook in the district. In fact, the president of the Pennsylvania Federation of Garden Clubs has remarked that the amount of work the Troy club does is impressive given their small size.
The Heritage Festival in September, where they are famous for their baked goods and mulled cider, is the group’s largest fundraiser. This year’s dates are September 18 and 19; the festival is at Alparon Park in Troy.
You can follow the group on their Facebook page at Heritage Garden Club of Troy, or talk with any member about joining. If you have a passion for plants, the ladies of the Heritage Garden Club share that same philosophy—about plants and about new members. There’s always room for more.